Hi stranger! Signing up for MypetMD is easy, free and puts the most relevant content at your fingertips.

Get Instant Access To

  • 24/7 alerts for pet-related recalls

  • Your own library of articles, blogs, and favorite pet names

  • Tools designed to keep your pets happy and healthy

or Connect with Facebook

By joining petMD, you agree to the Privacy Policy.

petMD Blogs

Written by leading veterinarians to provide you with the information you need to care for your pets.

Nutrition Nuggets is the newest offshoot of petMD's Dog Nutrition Center. Each week Dr. Coates will use her expertise and wisdom to blog about the intricacies of dog nutrition.

Dental Diets That Work for Dogs

October 19, 2012 / (7) comments

Last reviewed on November 25, 2015


Do you brush your dog’s teeth? You should … every day, or at least every other day (less than that is not really helpful). But don’t despair if, like me, you find that all too often "life" gets in the way of this chore. You do have other alternatives that can help.


My dog Apollo is on a very restricted diet to keep his inflammatory bowel disease under control. Therefore, I’ve chosen to use a drinking water additive. I’ve mostly been underwhelmed by its results. With my patients, I’ve had the greatest luck with therapeutic dental diets, but unfortunately that’s a "no go" with Apollo.


One misconception that I often hear from owners is that any dry food will help maintain a dog’s dental health, but research has not borne this out. An excellent, unbiased source of information about which products actually do help prevent the accumulation of plaque (the bacteria-laden scum that collects on teeth) and tartar (mineralized plaque the adheres to teeth) is the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC), an independent group that has set up standards for products that claim to help control dental disease in pets. The research protocols that companies have to follow are posted on the VOHC site.


Periodontal (gum) disease is the most common health disorder affecting dogs. VOHC does a good job explaining why periodontal disease is the almost inevitable result of poor oral hygiene.


The cause of gum disease is the same in cats and dogs as it is in people. Gum disease is an infection resulting from build-up of soft dental plaque on the surfaces of the teeth around the gums. The bacteria in dental plaque irritate the gum tissue if plaque is allowed to accumulate, which often leads to infection in the bone surrounding the teeth. Hard dental tartar (calculus) consists of calcium salts from saliva deposited on plaque. Tartar starts to form within a few days on a tooth surface that is not kept clean, and provides a rough surface that enhances further plaque accumulation. Once it has begun to grow in thickness, tartar is difficult to remove without dental instruments.

Bad breath is the most common effect noted by owners. However, this is often only the tip of the iceberg. The gums become irritated, leading to bleeding and oral pain, and your cat or dog may lose its appetite or drop food from its mouth while eating. The roots may become so severely affected that some teeth become loose and fall out. Bacteria surrounding the roots gain access to the blood stream ("bacteremia"). Studies have shown that dogs with severe periodontal disease have more severe microscopic damage in their kidneys, heart muscle and liver than do dogs with less severe periodontal disease.


Check out the VOHC website for a list of products that have earned their seal of acceptance, and remember that even with the best preventive care, most dogs need veterinary dental cleanings from time to time. I’m going to make Apollo’s appointment this week.



Dr. Jennifer Coates



Image: Annette Shaff / via Shutterstock

Comments  7

Leave Comment
  • Crunchy Food
    10/19/2012 11:03am

    So many people are convinced that dry food helps maintain Fido or Fluffy's dental health and they don't need veterinary dental care.

    Does anyone have any suggestions of what to say to these people that might help convince them otherwise? (Suggesting they read a study usually has them looking at the speaker as if they have two heads!)

  • Junk Diet = Clean Teeth?
    10/20/2012 01:41pm

    For the most part, that product list from the "Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC)" proves that most veterinarians are dangerously clueless about healthful diets for dogs and cats. The solution to oral health is not to feed junk food with ingredients that do not include meat as the primary protein source. Would a dentist recommend such a diet for humans? ANY vet who recommends ANY dry food diet for dogs and cats should have his license revoked.

  • 01/22/2014 06:12pm

    well that is an extremely polarizing comment and i have no way to separate you from every other internet genius because I do not know what qualifications you have that allows you to make such a statement. However I will play along for now. what research should I be reviewing that supports your argument that any vet that recommends dry food should have their licence revoked?

  • 01/22/2014 06:19pm

    while I wait I went to the VOHC website to start learning more on this topic and I see the first product on the list by the first company awarded the VOHC designation is a dry kibble. Well that certainly is going to make it tougher to get licences revoked from vets recommending dry. Ahhh the research continues

  • 01/22/2014 06:33pm

    There is very little veterinary journal research on non-commercial diets because the commercial dog food manufacturers fund nearly all such research by veterinary nutritionists, and even fund most nutrition courses at vet schools. But here is a link to one article which tangentially discusses the ill effects of dry food diets: http://cancer.landofpuregold.com/the-pdfs/holistic.pdf

  • 10/20/2012 07:46pm

    Jasmine gets her teeth brushed twice daily. Together with some recreational bone from time to time, whether her diet is or is not involved (she's on grain-free home-cooked), her mouth is in a pretty good shape (last dental cleaning two years ago; veterinary check-up very frequent)

  • Brush? Use PlaqueOff
    01/12/2016 11:56pm

    I haven't brushed my dog's teeth but once in the last 3 months. I've been sprinkling some PlaqueOff by ProDen on his food every day. Check out the company and the product. It's made of a dried special seaweed from Norway and it literally makes the plaque fall off my dog's teeth. They actually also make it for humans, but thanks to FDA restrictions, it's not available in the states (but is available online and they ship internationally). My dog's last visit to the vet - she said his teeth look "Flawless" and his breath is "terrific." I'll take that! (Oh - and no I don't work for the company or own stock or anything like that...)